The following is an excerpt from the novel I’m now working on. Jesse, one of the three protagonists, has been sent to spend the summer in the Everglades on an Outward Bound style program following his mom’s discovery of drugs in his room.
Jesse and the Boar
By the fourth day of chopping down the Australian pines, we’d stacked up forty trees. Miranda agreed with me that rather than splitting them into smaller pieces it’d be better to pull them along the shore and burn them there. After she gave us another speech on responsibility and endurance under pressure she sent us out to work. After half an hour I was already tired. Today no wind stirred the trees of the Glades and my back muscles were sore as fuck. Still, I knew if I pushed myself I could down three more. I rested for a moment and through the long, dark brown roots veining down from the branches of the Cypress I saw some saw grass move. A four foot long black boar first stuck its head out then came all the way out followed by four black and white speckled piglets. I touched my alert whistle with my left hand but feeling the weight of the axe in the right slowly put it back down. I put the axe in between my belt and pants and climbed up the tree branches, making sure that the wood didn’t hit the wood and scare the animal off. On the first level of branches, I took the axe from my pants and held it in my right hand. I could see someone chopping maybe a hundred feet away, but didn’t care who it was. Ants crawled over my hands as I made my way closer to the boar. No response. Dragonflies flew across my face and a bluebottles twice landed on my arm. They do not exist, I told myself. Right then I was a panther, moving so quietly and breathing slow so as to not give away my position. I was a predator getting ready to take my prey. As I slowly breathed in for a count of eight, I imagined myself dropping down from the branch and swinging the axe. I visualized how I would land, the best angle from which to swing, the feel of the impact, what to do in case it moved and I missed. On my second inhalation I pushed myself off the branch and landed on the ground with my knees slightly bent. The axe was already raised, I held my core in strong and mobilized every muscle from foot to hand to make the axe swing down with full force. It broke through the epidermis, scraping some of spinal column between skull and body before separating the dorsal column, the pyramidal and extrapyrimidal tracts and the tracts of the anterolateral and spinocerebellar system. It lay on its side, twitching.
I placed my foot on the pig’s fat, hairy stomach to pull the axe out. As I did this the piglets fled into the nearby grasses. After the axe was out, it’s legs continued to shake while blood and a white spume slowly spurted and bubbled out of the spinal wound. I stepped over the pig, lifted up the axe again and this time swung came down on its throat. It stopped moving after that. When I pulled out the axe a spurt of blood shot up onto my face, shorts and shirt. Looking down at the mess all over me, I smiled. There was a powerful energy running through me. I wished I had a knife to cut off a piece now and eat it before anyone came. Instead I reached down to the cut, cupped my hand and let it’s blood fill it. This is what natives would have done. Not divided up this beautiful animal that was wholly edible into some… thing that was only partly acceptable. It tasted bad. It’s just not a taste to which you are accustomed. Yes, yes, that’s it, I said to myself drank some more then flicked the blood off my hand, wiped my face then took the whistle from around my neck and blew as loud as I could and yelled out “Boar! Boar!”
I heard another whistle, then Gregg called out from the west “I just saw the little babies too!”
I yelled back, “I’m not whistling over the babies, but their Momma. Get Miranda over here!” I blew my whistle again.
“Help me get this on my back so we can take it back to camp.” I said.
“But you’re going to get bloodier.”
“So what. Get the back legs and help me heave it onto my shoulder.”
“We can both just carry it.”
“It’s not that heavy, it’s just big. Besides, I killed it, I want to bring it to camp.”
“We should just wait for Miranda.” Greg said in a fey voice.
“Dude, stop being a little bitch and just help me with this already.”
“Jesus fucking Christ! How difficult are you going to make this?”
After grabbing the legs, we swung the pig onto my back on the count of three. The pig did stink, bad, and my shirt was getting even more soaked through with blood. But I didn’t care about that or that my shoulder felt like it might buckle from the animal’s weight. This was my victory. Gregg picked up my axe as we walked to camp. Brian came to where they a few moments later, then blew his whistle calling out “boar!” Miranda was there a few moments later, gun in hand, and was taken aback by the sight of me with a shit-eating grin, covered in blood, carrying the hundred twenty pound animal on my right shoulder. She looked stunned. For a second I felt that I was about to get chewed out for having risked getting hurt but instead Miranda grinned ear to ear and said with a clear pride.
“Way to go, buccaneer, congratulations on a Clean Living first!”
“Buccaneer?” I asked.
“Well, depending on who you ask, buccaneers got their name either from the buccan, the type of wood grill the Arawak used to cook animals on or they got their name from the pigs, bacon, that they’d hunt on the islands then cure in salt before going out and attacking Spanish merchant vessels. Either way we’re going to cook up that bacon on a buccan and you, Bucco, got yourself got a new nickname!”
“What’s going to happen to the piglets?” Gregg asked.
“They’re pretty resilient, but in the end they’ll live or die according to their ability to survive.” Miranda responded.
After everyone had returned to camp, Miranda called Philip on the walkie-talkie. As she relayed where they were, everyone stood around the dead pig listening to me recount how I had killed it. When I was done, she tasked everyone. Gregg was to gather ingredients wild garlic. David and Mike were to cut up extra firewood and split planks to hold the pig a few feet above the fire. Brian was to clear some area around the campsite so that it could accommodate more tents. Miranda gave Aaron her Bowie knife and told me how to clean the pig. After we’d finished instructing him, she said to me:
“Alright, now you need to wash that blood off you. I’ll grab a change of clothes and a towel from your tent then go with you to the water, gun in hand, in case any alligators in the water scent the blood on you.”
I was somewhat reluctant to wash off the once steaming hot blood that had now cooled, dried and was cracking on my skin from each minor muscle movement I made. I wanted those in the other group now on their way to see it. Nevertheless I followed her orders. Flies were already starting to make me their favorite. She grabbed some clothes from my bag in my tent and my towel. We walked three minutes to where the kayaks were tied up. I went in and stripped nude under the water. As I twisted my clothes the blood left the absorbent cotton and swirled in the surrounding water. Looking askance at the reflective surface of water, I could see Miranda eyeing the surrounding waters. But not me. Lacking chemicals to leech it all out, the clothes remained slightly discolored every time I’d pull them out of the water to check if they were clean. I didn’t mind. If the blood stains came out too quickly then perhaps the memories of this experience might suddenly leave as well. Though each of my movements twisting the clothes was efficient and steady, I felt almost drunk in the motions. Pride at a task accomplished? Yes, that was it. I looked out into the water, then back to Miranda. Her eyes were still on alert. She informed me that though no alligators were on the horizon of the water I should still hurry up. No need to tempt fate.
“OK, I’m done.” Jesse said.
Miranda, who hadn’t looked at me up until this moment, faced me as I emerged from the water with small beads dripping down my body. My wet clothing in one hand covered my nudity. I caught the towel Miranda threw and wrapped it around myself. I noticed, however, that Miranda eyes betrayed something more than concern for gators at the moment. There was attraction in them. Now if I could just be seduction like I was a predator before, I might be able to bag two different types of prey in under an hour. While walking towards her I purposefully overstepped my gait. The fold holding the towel around my waist came undone and fell to the floor. Miranda looked at me, blushed and then turned her eyes away.
“Put your towel back on.”
“Don’t you like me?”
“You’re too young for me.”
“You’re twenty-three, I’m almost seventeen. It’s legal.” I said as I lifted the towel with my right foot, grabbed it with my hand and placed it over my left shoulder.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.” Miranda, eyes still away from my body, responded.
“You’ve been telling us to always answer the questions you ask not the questions we want to hear. Abide by your own rules and answer me – Do you like me?”
She said nothing for a few moments before affirming that it was true and then continuing quickly, “Yes but it doesn’t matter. Just because my body tells me something doesn’t mean my behavior has to agree. Remember our discussions on character? Now put the towel back on and go change behind that tree.”
“Yes… I remember what you said about character.” I said slowly as I slowly approached her, savoring the reversed role of power and in no hurry to let it pass away. “But I also remember that it is in the nature of character to change when faced with new circumstances. People must adapt to their circumstance. Right?”
At this she looked me in the eyes, utterly defiant. “I may have a bit of a crush on you, but if you think I’m going to fuck you right now then you’re not as smart as I thought.”
To avoid shifting my gaze from her face to the two projections now visible on her shirt, I stared directly back at her then responded, “I didn’t think you would. Nor do I want you to fuck me. Right now. The first time we’d fuck would be wild, but I wouldn’t want it to be in this wilderness, where we have to worry about prying eyes or ears.”
“Then what is all this for?”
“I just want a kiss for a job well done. After I have that, I’ll put my towel on and then go put my clothes on.”
“I kiss you, you tell someone, I get fired.”
“It’s bad etiquette to go around telling people our private business unless we both agreed to do so. Besides, I’m troubled, all you’d have to do is deny it and no one would believe me.”
She was silent for a moment then pulled in close enough for me to give her a kiss. As our lips were locked, I cupped her ass and pulled her pelvis to my naked body. It was so nice, firm and yet tender. Unlike the cold and hard something on my ribcage. I broke away and looked down. The revolver.
“Whoa there, Bucco. That’s enough. Keep you word and get dressed.”
I turned my back to her and while putting the dry clothes licked my lips, tasting the faint remainder of her saliva, and imagining that the faint pulse of her heart I’d felt though her lips echoed in mine. I couldn’t hold back a smile on the corner of my mouth. If nothing happens now, the seeds of desire have been planted. Her resistance may be as hard as concrete, but over time it’d crack and the water and tendrils that emerge from the seed itself would help make its way into the small imperfections that define everything that is human made and it would root into it. The root would slowly work its way through the concrete and bitumen, expanding the cracks it as it tapped down and shot up with a strong trunk that would it split apart. When we came back to camp, everyone was still buzzing with activity. I sat on a log and watched everyone work. Brian, who’d just finished clearing the area, sat down next to me. Still within earshot of Miranda, he whispered to me.
“Way to kill that boar, now we can meet those two girls from the other group!”
“So?!” Brian said with eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, so? It’s not like we have a chance to fuck them out here. Hey, girl I just met, step into my tent and let’s get dirtier than we already are!”
“That’s not “positive thinking,” now is it?
“Hah. No, I guess not.”
“And did you think you were going to kill a boar a few minutes before you did?”
“No, but that’s different.”
“Brian, Bucco, stop slacking. Come over here and I’ll show you how to make a buccan.” The two of us watched and helped when we could. Half an hour after the fire was started Philip and his group showed up. The kids set up their tents while Philip checked in with Miranda. He asked who killed it.
“I did.” I said.
“Good job, Jesse.” Philip said with a clearly forced smile and fake enthusiasm.
The groups shook hands and introduced themselves for the first time. Philip stated that the same rules that each group had still applied. Brian, Gregg and Mike tried talking to the girls every chance they could get. I was embarrassed for them. I was even a little bit shy when they congratulated me for killing the boar. My aloofness allowed me to keep Miranda in the periphery of my vision. The fire pit sizzled as drops of fat fell down. The aroma of it and the other foodstuffs the two girls from the other camp were attending to was simply divine. Before everyone ate Miranda said a prayer of thanks to the boar for giving it’s life to feed them, adding at the end “and thanks to Jesse for bringing us all together for this delicious meal”. I blushed.
After we ate Philip started to tell a story similar to the ones Miranda had been telling around their campfire for the past three weeks. This time it was about the rituals of the Tequesta that had once lived near the area they were now sleeping. They had hunted white tail deer there for hundreds of years. Part of their customary rites were an annual feast known as the Green Corn feast. At this time the young Indians that had hunted and killed their first animals on their own would be initiated into adulthood. Following this, all of the adult customs would now apply to them. Philip said that even though I was the only one that had killed an animal, the same held true for everyone there. Everyone had been doing something special by merit of our completing the Clean Living program and that their ceremony in a week would be that time for everyone to accept being an adult. Hearing my specialness be diminished, I couldn’t help but interrupted Philip as he started to list skills we’d learned here that could be used once outside of the wild.
“But I’m the only one that killed an animal…”
“We know that, but you weren’t able to enjoy it as much without everyone here, whether they were helping or just being present to recognize your accomplishment.”
He was right, but that wasn’t the point, and I was still pissed and decided to test what I felt to be Philip’s weakness, “Have you ever killed an animal out here?”
“No, I haven’t.” With a tone and face that implied he was somehow better for not having done it.
“So what you’re saying is that out of this group here, I’m the only one the natives would consider an adult?” I shot back.
“No, Jesse. I’ve hunted out here too.” Miranda said with a glare demanding I drop it. I could almost hear her voice inside my head saying, I can put up with some of your shit but don’t be a dick to my boss.
Enjoying what I’d gotten so far from pushing boundaries, I couldn’t help but respond “True, but you’re a woman so you wouldn’t be sitting with the chiefs as they talk business.”
“Ran.” Philip said, putting his hand up to stop what was coming out of Miranda’s teeth-bared mouth. “I got this.”
“Ha! I was just talking shit to make a point but look at you, doing with your actions the thing I was just ridiculing!”
Philip said “I don’t believe that women should be subservient to men, Jesse. However you did interrupt me, and are starting conflict with me. Rather than someone else coming into our conflict, I’m limiting its spread in the hope the two of us can come to a peaceful understanding and we can continue to have a pleasant night after having enjoyed eating the boar you bagged. Towards that end allow me to ask you to clarify something, what was your point in interrupting me?”
“Just pointing out that no one here passed any tests to be considered an adult. After this “training” we can’t legally buy beer or vote. We get caught with drugs, we still go to juvie, not jail. We may have new skills, but we’ll still considered minors until the earth circles the sun a certain number of times. I get this metaphoric reality where our time out here and ceremonies mean we’re adults now. OOoOoOooOhhhh. But AT THE SAME TIME we’re still not. Shit, I think about it now and even after we’re adults we’re still children in the eyes of the law. And really, you can talk about making some “peaceful understanding” all you want, but I haven’t forgotten that the only reason I’m here is because, one, you had two huge dudes with you that were going to tackle and hogtie my ass if I tried to escape and, two, when I did escape your “understanding” you got a pig to zap me with a tazer so you can get me out in the middle of nowhere.”
“You are here, we’re all here” he said breaking eye contact with me, “because you or your parents recognized that your behavior wasn’t productive to your being the best possible you you could be. You’re here because learning some self-awareness, communication, and leadership skills that will strengthen your self-image.”
“I get that what I’m learning out here is good, but stop talking like you know me. You’re a stranger to me. My parents may have sent me here and given you some written down information, but they don’t know me either. They’re so busy with their own lives they’re practically fucking strangers too.”
“You know, that’s the fourth time you’ve cursed.”
“So fucking what? You going to write me up for my potty mouth> Please, do. It’d be nice to have something besides leaves for toilet paper.”
Philip’s eyes scanned those around the circle to gauge their reactions to the others. I’d been checking them in my periphery the whole time so mine didn’t move off Philip.
“You’re right, bad words only have bad meaning if we allow agree that they should and you’re just expressing strong feelings. You’re also right about my not having met you until three weeks ago. But I do know you. I know from having seen your school records. Last year, your first year of high school, you were sent to internal suspension for forty-six days for things such as insubordination and classroom disruption and that you skipped going to school nine times. Jesse for almost a third of the school year you were deemed to be such a problem that they had to segregate you from your classmates…”
“Let me continue…”
“No. Because this is the thing that you and my teacher and my parents don’t get. I’m not the problem, the school is. Did you ever think that I purposefully act that way so I can get sent there because I can do the classwork on my own in less time than it takes for my teachers to go through every little thing the dumb kids don’t get? Does it say in those records that with all my free time I read things that actually interest me rather than just stare at the walls like the real problem kids in there? Does it say that despite all the time I am in IS or absent my grades are near the top of the class?”
“I knew about your grades, but not your intentions behind your actions. And honestly, I’m glad you feel secure enough out here to open yourself up about this. Have you already shared this with Miranda?” He looked over and saw Ran shaking her head to affirm he did. “If you told your parents or people at the school about this before and weren’t listened to, I’m sorry. Just know that we’re here to help you and that though it may be difficult to sometimes accept rules, we still need to follow them.”
“Or we get kidnapped, tazed and sent for a month to a re-education camp.”
“Actions have consequences that we don’t always expect, but we must accept them.”
“Let me then now ask you to clarify something. According to what you said, if, after I get back to Miami I searched for where you live and waited for you with a couple of my friends and forced you into a car and left you in the middle of nowhere, you’d just accept that.”
“That’s a threat!” Philip said.
Pussies get pounded, I thought, and smiled slyly and started tapping him out with my tongue. “I’m not threatening you, Phil. I’m using a rhetorical device called an “analogy” to make a point. I’m pointing out, again, the absurdity of your generalizations about accepting things the way they are. You want me to accept consequences, but what you’re really saying is you want me to be this person that’s not me that you want to be. It’s just like when you say that “We’re all adults now” when a whole other set of rules apply to us. God, were you always such a dick or did you just decide to become one when you realized it wasn’t normal to have one the size of a thumb.”
At this last line all the guys chuckled and the two girls smirked. Miranda gave me an angry stare. Maybe if I managed to push his buttons enough she’ll take me aside for a one on one and I can press my luck for a fuck. She’s pissed but just like every other chick likes bad boys.
“A small dick joke, does that really helps anything Jesse?”
“If that’s the one thing you heard from everything I just said, you’re the one who needs to develop better attention and communication skills.”
Philip was in the middle of spitting out a response when a crack of lightning branched out countless white fingers across the purplish haze of the evening sky. The illumination of the sky revealed that the approaching clouds were not just dark from the setting sun but were instead heavy with the lifeblood of earth. I, like everyone, internally counted the moments before the thunder roared. Three seconds passed before the tremor of air was audible. I unhitched my tweaked eyes from Philip’s face and for the first time noticed everyone staring at me. For the first time, I noticed Joann was smiling. I understood then why she normally didn’t, she looked, well, sinister.
“We’ll finish this later,” Philip said. “Let’s do a quick clean up just in case the storm passes by here.”
Two minutes later, sure enough, the previously comforting wind became more vigorous. It flowed through the nearby plants. Another crackle crossed the sky and a dense veil of rain started to fall. Philip yelled out not to worry about the fire and that since it was already dark to consider it bed time. The rainfall on the tents and plants around them made a diverse array of sounds. Feeling jacked up from the confrontation, I lay back and listened to the sounds of the storm and tried to find some kind of rhythm to calm me. Nothing. Instead, I thought about Miranda. If she’d pulled me aside to yell at me back there something probably would have happened. Pressing my lips together and licking them I recalled our brief kiss. My hand on her ass. The gun to my stomach. The risk of getting caught. Fuc-king-hot. I was starting to convince myself to break my vow not to pleasure myself while out in the Glades when I faintly heard the sound of the tent’s zipper opening up. Miranda! Is it really this easy to make awesome things like this happen? I smiled. Miranda, already at the front of my thoughts, was about to leave the back of my throat when I recognized by the hair length it wasn’t her. It was Joann.